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Guatemala is a hidden gem among tourists, and a perfect destination for those interested in an authentic cultural immersion experience.

While gaping at the expansive landscapes, exploring volcanoes, and becoming entranced by the colorful artisan crafts of the Mayans, volunteering in Guatemala has become another point of interest for those seeking a more fulfilling travel experience.

It is no secret that Guatemala’s government struggles to provide adequate resources to their citizens. Being the biggest country in Central America, with the largest economy, it’s baffling to realize that over half of the people live in poverty. While the tourist industry booms, the common people suffer.

So if you are looking to volunteer abroad, Guatemala is a great place to start. There are projects for every type of personality, skill, and interest, so knowing your options is a great starting point. Check out these top volunteer projects in Guatemala, and make your next trip a reason to get involved.

Top Volunteer Projects in Guatemala

Working with Kids

Working with kids is a great option for those with a big heart, childlike imagination, and the patience of a zen master.

Working with kids is a great option for those with a big heart, childlike imagination, and the patience of a zen master! You might be placed in a childcare facility, after-school program, or a government-run orphanage.

Work usually involves caring for a group of 3-5 children, providing as much individual attention as possible, helping with homework and school assignments, an engaging kids in educational and extracurricular activities.

Volunteers who work with kids can expect a background check, and must comply by all of the rules of their placement.

Some sites have strict policies which prohibit volunteers from snapping photos of the children. This is for the child’s safety, and therefore if you’re interested in instagramming your experience, then this project probably isn’t for you. However, photo opps are permitted, and sometimes encouraged in sustainability projects.

Conservation & Sustainability

Volunteers rescued her, returning her to the ocean.

Conservation and sustainability projects focus on environmental protection. Depending on the project, you might help with reforestation, sea turtle conservation, clean up efforts in some of the most beautiful ecosystems, or community education and outreach.

The purpose of these volunteer projects are to reverse the damaging effects caused by human behavior and bad habits. Is it too late? Never. Volunteering with a conservation/sustainability project will spark the hope you’re seeking. You realize how many people are passionate about working together to save the planet.

There are no shortage of local projects around the world dedicated to their work. Volunteers are often the backbone which help to keep these often underfunded projects working.

With Guatemala’s vast diversity, there are options for turtle conservation, or clean up and outreach at beautiful Lake Atitlan.

Animals & Wildlife

Thanks to the local dog shelters, many of these roaming strays are taken in for full vet care and then placed with a loving family.

If you’re an animal lover, try an animal and wildlife project. Whether you’re interested in caring for our furry friends, or you’re more interested in working with exotic reptiles, Guatemala has a project for you!

Latin America is known for the stray dog population. These dogs often go uncared for attracting leeches as they scour for leftovers, and seek shelter during storms.

Thanks to the local dog shelters, many of these roaming strays are taken in for full vet care and then placed with a loving family. Volunteers who choose to work in the dog shelters can expect to help with cage cleaning, feeding, basic obedience training, and bonding on walks.

The exotic care center focuses on the rehabilitation and recovery of wild reptiles. Volunteers might get involved with daily maintenance of the center, feeding, cage cleaning, and conservation work as needed.

Construction

For an in-your-face impact, try a construction project.

For an in-your-face impact, try a construction project. Construction projects work to help renovate or construct needed facilities in under-developed communities.

Many families living in the rural outskirts of Guatemala have little-to-no access to educational and healthcare facilities. This puts the population at risk for unemployment and preventable health issues.

Construction projects place volunteers with a local foreman who guides you through the tasks at hand. From digging to building, mixing, or painting, every role is necessary in the construction project. The final development might be a school, healthcare clinic, home or orphanage.

If you’re a person who likes to witness the outcome of your work in just a few short hours, a construction project might be perfect for you.

FAVORITE CENTRAL AMERICA TRAVEL GUIDES! CLICK TO LOOK INSIDE ↓

Guatemala Travel Guide

Lonely Planet Guatemala 

Central america travel guide

Central America on a Shoestring 

Lonely Planet Belize

Lonley Planet Belize

SPREAD THE WORD!! PIN THIS TO YOUR TRAVEL PINTEREST BOARDS ↓

Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; a website dedicated to opening your eyes to the wild & natural world.

Committed to bringing you the best in adventure travel from all around the globe, there is no mountain too high, and no fete too extreme! They haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on their list.

If you enjoy getting social, you can follow their journey on FacebookTwitterYouTubePinterest and Instagram.

Photo credits: Featured photo by Australia High Commission, Suva via DFAT. Working with kids by Idex World. Lost sea turtle by Lauren Vonnahme/Ga. DNR for  the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division. Construction by by Jim Holmes for AusAID via DFAT Australian Aid.

    22 Comments

  1. Wonderful resource Megan! Love the breakdown of the different options for volunteering. It’s so important to pick something you are passionate about – it’ll make the world of difference. I’d love to take part in a number of these projects, but I think animal work is where my heart lies… although it breaks my heart not being able to adopt them all!

    • Thanks Emma! I agree that it’s important to pick something you’re passionate about – you can really give your best efforts then, and your passion really reflects in the quality of work you do.

      If you’re a fan of working with animals, Guatemala could use you!

  2. I’ve heard about the sea turtle volunteer opportunity before. I’m going to pin this article in my travel and volunteerism board. The environmental conservation and volunteering with kids would be most fulfilling for me.

    • So glad to hear Tifanee – you could definitely combine a couple of projects back to back if you have the time to spare. Definitely consider Guatemala if you’re planning on volunteering internationally soon 🙂

  3. Great message Meg! My friend too did some work there. He worked with the project HOPE. And he vouches that it was the most memorable time of his life. So ya, we should tap that part of our lives too!

    • Thanks Sreekar – so glad to hear that your friend found his volunteer experience rewarding – I definitely encourage every-one to consider this type of travel, we all have the opportunity to give back 🙂

  4. This is really thought-provoking stuff…we are about to embark on some long-term travel and would love to do some volunteer work along the way. I think working with kids is really well-known, but taking part in a construction project is something I had not considered and could be really good fun and rewarding. Also the animals – I love dogs, and the sea turtles could also be really interesting. Thanks for sharing, definitely some useful tips here that I will refer to again.

    • So glad we could inspire you to consider volunteering on your upcoming travels Sarah – there are definitely a huge range of projects, so something to suit every-one’s skills and interests, and local communities are always in need. A great way to immerse yourself too, and I’ve found my volunteer experiences are usually the most memorable.

      Feel free to touch base if you have any questions in organizing a placement 🙂

  5. Volunteering is something that has been on my mind for a long time. It sounds like a great way to travel and help others at the same time. Guatamala would be perfect and as an animal lover, I’m really happy to hear about the dog programme.

    • Guatamala has some great projects if you have a love for wildlife and animals, I can highly recommend taking part in a placement, it’s a truly rewarding experience which you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

  6. It must be very rewarding to serve in countries that are so desperate for help. Have you worked in any of these service opportunities yet? What is the minimum time commitment for serving with children?

    • Absolutely Tami – re the time commitment, different programs and placements will have different requirements; Maximo Nivel’s volunteer projects have a minimum 1 week, but they recommend 2 weeks or longer. So it’s a really great chance to get involved even if you don’t have a lot of time.

      Their link is https://maximonivel.com/volunteers/working-with-kids/ if you want to check out their programs.

  7. Great suggestions for volunteer projects! It’s always nice to be able to give back when traveling. Would definitely be interested in looking into the clean up efforts, conservation and sustainability projects! So many great ways to help protect the environment!

    • Thanks Jenna! Glad you enjoyed the post – hopefully you’ll have the chance to get involved on your next trip abroad 🙂

  8. What a fantastic resource! I wish more travel bloggers would vet other organizations as meaningful travel continues to surge. I’ve heard that volunteering with children (ie. orphanages, schools) only short term is damaging to them as it cultivates the notion that they are easily abandoned BUT what I love about what you’ve shared is that volunteers are subject to background checks. I don’t think that’s a standard across the world.

    • Thanks Izzy – I’m glad that you found benefit from the post 🙂 Yes, I absolutely agree that it’s essential to support organizations that encourage responsible and sustainable experiences – we based this post off the volunteer projects available through Maximo Nivel (https://maximonivel.com) – they have a very high standard when placing volunteers to make sure there is benefit for all involved.

  9. Its so nice to learn that volunteering is picking up tempo in so many parts of the world. There are tons of options to choose from and so many people, specially travellers, who are interested in contributing in different ways.

    • Absolutely – I think there’s a very solid movement behind responsible tourism, and giving back / immersing yourself / having a positive impact on the communities you visit and spend time with. There really are so many options that everyone should be able to find something within their interests to contribute and give back 🙂

  10. I think it’s good there are restrictions in place for photographing children – all too often we see photos of travellers sharing photos with these vulnerable children, and it doesn’t sit well with me. Heck, I’ve been guilty of it too but now, 12 years on, I feel differently. I/d love to do some conservation projects though! Ever since I became a certified scuba diver I feel very passionately about the environment now.

    • Absolutely agree with you – and honestly, if not being able to photograph the children is a deal breaker you’re probably not there for the right reasons anyway.

      Scuba diving is something I would love to learn how to do – I can totally see how it would strengthen your connection with the environment, especially the sea. Conservation projects sound like they would really suit you 🙂

  11. This is a great share! Not only does one get to quench their wanderlust, to experience a new culture, to see new vistas, but the chance to leave an imprint on the world, to make it a better place!

    • Thanks Roy! So glad you enjoyed the post – I agree, everyone wins when you choose to volunteer (ethically)!

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